July 17, 2002. I am 31 years old. I have been married for almost 11 years and I have a 5 1/2 year old son. Today life as I know it changes forever. Right now, in this moment, I have no idea just how much my life is going to alter or that it will be for the better. Right now I am too absorbed with grief, horror, shock and hurt to understand that what transpires over the course of this day will have such a profound affect on every breath that I take from here forward. Right now I just have to get through this.
July 17, 2014. I am 43 years old. I have been married for almost 23 years and I have a 17 1/2 year old son and a 6 year old son. Today’s life as I know it is nothing like what it was 12 years ago. Right now, in this moment, life is better. Right now I am filled with faith, determination, confidence and pride as I reflect upon what transpired over the course of this day and the weeks, months and years that followed July 17, 2002.
Sometimes I feel like there was a Tracey Before July 17, 2002 and a Tracey After July 17, 2002. Two totally different people. If you were to do a before and after picture, they’d appear similar. I look pretty much the same except I’ve recently let my hair go au naturel (read: grey) and I now wear glasses all the time; not just at work. The differences I refer to are not physical characteristics that can be seen. It’s much more than that. My whole life’s perception has done a complete role-reversal since that day. The way I relate, react and respond to everything and everyone around me is much healthier (I think) than pre-2002.
You see, pre-2002 I was very much about “me”. I was very much about “stuff”. I was very preoccupied with what other people thought. I was a people-pleaser whether pleasing the people was good for me or not, it didn’t matter. I was absorbed with living my life through someone else’s eyes. And if I wasn’t able to live my life that way I played the “Woe is Me” card and made life unbearable for anyone in earshot.
Mind you, it wasn’t quite as bad after Matthew was born. I had to learn in a hurry that it wasn’t all about me and that I had to make decisions based on the best interest of my son. I’m not going to lie, it was a hard pill to swallow. Motherhood (or at least the beginning of it) was nothing like what I anticipated. It was only through the love and extreme patience of my husband and my family that I was able to slowly transition into my role as a Mom.
Just as I was getting my feet under me (and yes, it did take almost 5 1/2 years), we decided to expand our family. We were ready. Matthew would be starting school and the timing felt right.
Our plans weren’t the plans.
We expanded our family, of course, just not in the typical way. I gave birth to our daughter whom we welcomed into our lives and sorrowfully handed her back to the stars all in mere moments. The lessons she would teach would last far beyond her time here on Earth.
There was a purpose to the grief, horror, shock and hurt that absorbed me 12 years ago. I could not let Emily’s life be in vain. She had a message, her life had meaning. It was up to me and to us as a family to understand what that meaning was and to keep her alive in our world the best way we could. We would not be able to hold her, teach her or watch her grow but we could learn from her, love her and honour her. That’s where the changes came for me.
I became much more honest with myself. I redefined what was important in my life. I determined that many of the issues consuming my world on July 16, 2002 were irrelevant in the big scheme of things. My husband and I now shared a bond so far beyond our wedding vows that our relationship took on a entirely new meaning. The stuff from yesterday was gone; it just didn’t matter any more. Even though there was a birth and a death on that day, there was a rebirth of a family who embraced a horrific tragedy and took the first step towards rebuilding.
Was it easy? No, of course not. Was it supposed to be easy? Not a chance. Nothing worth having is. So how did it happen? Why did we choose this change instead of losing ourselves in pity, remorse and sorrow? Wouldn’t it have been just as easy to wallow and allow the world to smother us in sadness? Sure, that would have been really easy but it wouldn’t have prepared us for the years filled with joy and sorrow that were yet to be lived.
In the last 12 years there have been quite a few major events that I’m sure I could not have handled the way I did if July 17, 2002 didn’t happen. If Emily hadn’t been born my daughter, I don’t think I could have coped.
My best friend died in 2003, while I was holding her hand. Before she closed her eyes for the last time she told me she was going to take care of my girl. How selfless was that? Two of the most important female role models in my world were now watching over me. As with July 17, 2002 the next day of most significant importance to me was September 6, 2003.
Perhaps our girl knew that her big brother was going to need me to be on my game. Perhaps she knew that I had to have strength like I didn’t know I was capable of to stand by Matthew’s side when he needed me most. Maybe she knew that the best thing she could do for me was hurt me. The whole “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” thing?
Anyone who knows our family or who is a follower of my blog knows the road we have walked with Matthew since he started school. It has been an ongoing journey of persistence, heartache, accomplishment, and the biggest test in tenacity that I have ever faced. My boy needed me to be strong and my girl made me strong. What a gift she gave me to be able to pass along to her brother.
My life did a complete 360° and started all over again. It was about me alright, all about me being the type of mom Matthew needed to support him, to advocate for him and to teach the world that things weren’t always as they seemed.
Over the years there have been many tears and many accomplishments. Now that Matthew is older he is learning to advocate for himself and he educates along the way whenever he can. It makes my heart swell when I hear him explain how he talked himself out of a meltdown or managed to remove himself from a situation that he knew contained more triggers than he was prepared to deal with. Our boy has made it to high school, is volunteering at a job that fulfills him greatly and is growing and maturing in leaps and bounds.
Are we out of the woods? Well, if the answer to that is based on where we live I’d have to say no. Hahahaha! I am so NOT a comedian. Matthew lives with autism spectrum disorder, a nonverbal learning disorder and ADHD. We may all walk along nicely for a while but then we come to some rugged terrain and Matt needs a helping hand. He’s been growing a lot which lets him maneuver the rough spots like the seasoned hiker he is. He’s making his own pathways but he’s also smart enough to know that hikers shouldn’t go into the woods by themselves. The best way to get through anything is by using the buddy system for support, for encouragement and for guidance.
We also use the buddy system much the same as Matthew. Pre 2002 I’d probably think I was invincible but Miss Emily also taught me that I’m not. Now I’m much more willing to accept that I am only who I am because of those I have around me.
The whole is more than the sum of its parts. ~Aristotle
This quote perfectly sums up what it has taken me more than 1400 words to say. I am who I am because of those around me joining together.
The Hilliard’s (the ‘whole’) are more than Michael, Tracey, Matthew, Emily and Marcus (the sum of its parts). While we all have our own positive attributes to contribute, by adding all of our strengths and weaknesses together we are able to culminate to a level so far beyond our individual selves.
I’ve known this. It’s not a big revelation. However I didn’t see it. There’s the difference. This is all part of my post July 17, 2002 growth and while I could continue to talk for days about what else my girl taught me and what she continues to teach me I’ll close off by wishing my Angel in the Stars a very Happy 12th Birthday.
My Emily Ann Rose will continue to be part of our ‘whole’ contributing in ways we have yet to see.
Until next time…